early and often

Republicans Want Surrender, Not a Deal, on the Debt Ceiling

Kevin McCarthy’s every breath on the debt ceiling is taken in bad faith. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As we face an impending crisis over the debt ceiling, Republicans claim they just want the two parties to come together and bargain over a fiscal package that will rein in future growth in the national debt. But the negotiations that House Republicans (and about half of Senate Republicans) are calling for aren’t being proposed in good faith. For years, Republicans have insisted that when looking for ways to reduce deficits and debt, only the spending side of the ledger should be on the table.

Republican fanaticism on this subject predates the several recent manufactured debt-ceiling crises. Their opposition to tax increases is even more absolute than their opposition to abortion, as my colleague Jonathan Chait pointed out when GOP candidates began trimming their sails in light of the public backlash to the end of Roe v. Wade:

Republicans have clung to their opposition to taxing the rich even as it has consistently put a drag on their political appeal. Supermajorities of the public favor raising taxes on the affluent and corporations. Even as Democrats in Congress have struggled to cobble together votes for a tax hike on corporations, Republicans have almost totally abstained from attacking it publicly. Yet they haven’t moderated their stance, which has remained absolute for decades.

So in discussing fiscal remedies with Democrats, who are at least theoretically open to all sorts of measures on both sides of the budget ledger, Republicans are waging asymmetric warfare; they refuse to consider popular tax increases that could help address their alleged panic about runaway debt.

There are additional tokens of bad faith in the GOP’s “negotiating” posture, such as their refusal to name the unpopular budget cuts they’re calling for (particularly cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid). They clearly hope that Democrats will do their dirty work, providing cover for these measures once a bipartisan deal is announced. Republican weren’t barnstorming for entitlement on the 2022 campaign trail, so it’s more than a little outrageous that they are touting their narrow House majority as a mandate to shred the safety net, as some of them implicitly are. Per the Washington Post:

“We have no choice but to make hard decisions,” said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), the leader of the Republican Study Committee, a bloc of more than 160 conservative lawmakers that endorsed raising the retirement age and other changes last year. “Everybody has to look at everything.”

“Everything” clearly does not include tax increases. So in a very real sense, congressional Republicans are not demanding negotiations over debt-related provisions. Instead, they’re calling for unconditional surrender, but giving Democrats some influence over which Republican-dictated spending cuts they would prefer. Thus, there will be nothing “bipartisan” about any solution to the crisis.

What is to be done, then? At present, anyone who depends on a healthy American economy — including Republicans’ friends and donors — should tell them every single day to lay off threats to trigger a debt default. Demagoguing the debt ceiling may be an incurable habit for the politicians who never had a problem with debt when it was being run up by George W. Bush or Donald Trump, but a potential economic collapse is too high a price to pay for the dumbest and most insincere of Republican talking points.

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Republicans Want Surrender, Not a Deal, on the Debt Ceiling